Skin Cancer Danger: Not Just in Summer
Snow on the ground doesn't mean you don't have to worry about sun exposure. Sunburns -- and skin cancer -- can happen even in winter months.
The Skinny of Vulnerability
Australia's experience with skin cancer does yield numerous
lessons about risk factors for the ailment. In fact, some of these could apply
to people in the U.S. and Europe, perhaps making more plausible a prediction of
higher skin cancer rates in the future.
Skin cancer develops with cumulative overexposure to invisible
UV radiation from the sun. When UV light penetrates the skin, it can damage
skin cells and cause them to mutate over time. If these mutated cells aren't
destroyed by the immune system, they could develop into skin cancer.
Here are some of the reasons why Australians are so vulnerable
to the disease and how the same hazards could affect Americans and
'Who's the fairest of them all?' Most Australians
migrated from Northern European territories. "We're basically a pale-skin
population living in a dark-skinned people's land," Slevin explains.
"We've been here for only a little over 200 years and our skin hasn't
adapted to the ultraviolet radiation that we're exposed to."
Slevin says the growth of international travel by Americans and
Europeans to warm, sunny lands during the fall and winter months has also
increased their amount of UV exposure.
Skin is in. In Australia, the U.S., and Europe, exposure
to the sun has apparently increased with a strong cultural desire for
light-skinned people to get a tan and with a change in dress since the early
"People used to shun the sun with their hats and
parasols," says Martin Weinstock, MD, PhD, chairman of the skin cancer
advisory group for the American Cancer Society. Now, showing bare midriffs and
more leg, even outside the beach, is acceptable in many parts of the western
Fun in the sun. If it's sunny out, people in Australia
tend to go to the beach and play, says Kendra Sundquist, PhD, spokeswoman for
The Cancer Council New South Wales. The same could certainly be said of people
in other parts of the globe. With a host of outdoor activities from surfing to
in-line skating to gardening, there are plenty of reasons for people to venture
outside on nice days.